As Dhoni gets slower, time to test Pant ahead of World Cup
KEEPING CONUNDRUM With Karthik too failing to score, playing Pant as batsman could be an option
DESPITE scoring a fifty in his first competitive game in over two months, MS Dhoni is the elephant in the room India needs to address soon before its domino effect is felt in the World Cup this May. Dhoni came out on Saturday in the fourth over with India chasing 288. The equation was still in favour of India. Even if Australia bowl well — which they did — a sub-300 total can never get too out of hand for the best chasers in the game.
Dhoni taking up 36 balls to score just six was still par for the course given the disciplined bowling that forced Rohit Sharma to consume 18 balls to get off the mark. India were in dire need of a partnership and Dhoni played his part. But unlike Sharma, Dhoni couldn’t find the next gear to guide India to the finish. This begs the question why India must insist on projecting Dhoni as an indispensable part of the World Cup plans when calibre players like Rishabh Pant and Manish Pandey are warming the bench. Farokh Engineer pitched the same question last week.
Several reasons are cited in Dhoni’s favour. Whatever Dhoni the wicket-keeper lacks in technique, he compensates by thinking on his feet. He rarely lunges to his left but can be the brain that drives the team. Lastly, victory is almost certain when Dhoni is at the crease. Not anymore.
Pant is a rapidly improving wicket-keeper who can blast any bowling attack. At 21, fitness is not an issue for him. Virat Kohli’s credentials as captain too has received a massive boost and with Rohit Sharma as vice-captain, India look smart on field. With the emergence of Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey, India don’t have to depend solely on Dhoni to finish matches.
And so good has India’s batting been that Dhoni was not needed to come out in seven of the last 21 ODIS, beginning with the South Africa tour. That means every failure by Dhoni is bound to be dissected more critically now on, especially in the World Cup year. Sydney was the first for this year though it didn’t seem headed that way.
Dhoni was always a big proponent of grafting till the required run rate was under control. On Saturday however, Dhoni fell short of his own standards. Never really a sweet timer of the ball, he struggled to pierce the gaps in Sydney. Case in point was the maiden bowled by Nathan Lyon where Dhoni skipped out every ball only to prod at it. Any other batsman — Pant or even Pandey — would have had better success in milking someone who went for 50 runs from 10 overs.
By the time he was adjudged leg before, Dhoni looked as tired as someone who had been playing non-stop for two months. Only he hasn’t. New batsman Dinesh Karthik was expected to accelerate but poor shot selection meant his last fifty still came 15 months back. Punting on two wicket-keepers whose primary job isn’t keeping wicket doesn’t look to be a great idea.
There will be some time to improve if Australia and New Zealand don’t go according to plan.
Pitches will be flat and boundaries will be small during the limited-overs series against Australia at home next month. And then there is IPL. Law of averages say Dhoni should come to his elements again one day. But it won’t be a bad idea for India to see if Pant fits in their scheme of things.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who took 36 balls to get to six runs, could not find the next gear unlike Rohit Sharma and take India past the finishing line on Saturday after both were off to slow starts.